A few days after qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in May, Wildwood Crest triathlete Joe Maloy came back to his hometown to celebrate his achievement with family and friends.
More than 1,000 people showed up during a ceremony at a beachfront pavilion after a parade. Maloy, 30, was so moved by the outpouring of support and love that he cried.
Many of those same friends and family members were glued to TV sets Thursday during viewing parties held at establishments near his hometown to watch their hero compete in Rio de Janeiro.
“He was a great kid,” Susan Haury, Maloy’s first-grade science teacher at Crest Memorial School, said while watching the race at Icona Resort Beach Bar in the Diamond Beach section of Lower Township. “He was always full of life, always athletic and very competitive at a very young age. Our community is bursting with pride. We are all so proud of him.”
Maloy did not disappoint them. He overcame a rough start to place 23rd overall and was the first of three Americans to finish among 55 competitors. The 2004 Wildwood Catholic High School graduate completed the 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10K run in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 30 seconds.
Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee won the race in 1:45.01, becoming the first triathlete to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
“You have to be wherever you are,” Maloy told USA Triathlon after the race. “You can’t wish you were at the front of the race, and you can’t be sad if you’re at the back of the race. You can’t ever quit. You have to keep fighting and keep persevering. That’s what triathlon is about, and in a broader sense that’s what the Olympic Games are about.
“I was really proud of the way I ran. I didn’t give up; I didn’t quit. I kept fighting and that was the best I had. I wanted to make my family and my country proud.”
About 30 people made the trip to Brazil to watch the race in person at Copacabana Beach in Rio.
That group included his parents, Joe and Mary, his younger brother John, a few Wildwood Crest lifeguards and some of Maloy’s former teammates at Boston College.
“(The Olympic experience) is special,” Maloy said. “It’s special. It’s something I can’t put into words. My family is here and my coach (Paolo Sousa) is here. What makes sports special are people coming together to enjoy it — the community, the social aspect. It helps bring people together and inspires people in a way that very few other things do. That’s something that will stay with me forever.”
His hometown community came together Thursday morning.
Hundreds crammed into the Icona Resort Beach Bar and Goodnight Irene’s in Wildwood.
“We have a very good following here,” said Chris Mitchell, who went to school with Maloy, from prekindergarten through high school, and worked with him on the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol. “Everyone’s wearing a Maloy T-shirt. People here get behind you.”
At the Icona, a large red, white and blue “Let’s Go Joe!” banner hung over a packed bar during the race. The crowd there included Maloy’s aunt and uncle, Jane and Bob Hopkins. They traveled two hours from Delaware to watch their nephew in action. The Icona is located just a few blocks from Maloy’s boyhood home on Seaview Avenue in Wildwood Crest, Crest Memorial and the Joseph Von Savage Memorial Pool where Maloy developed his swimming skills.
“This is great,” Jane Hopkins said. “This is where it all started. Just to see all the people that support him has been great. Even going through it, the parade when he qualified, all the support you see on social media for him, he’s got to feel happy about that.”
The fans at Goodnight Irene’s were equally proud of him. That group included several Wildwood Catholic graduates who remembered him as a standout swimmer and runner for the Crusaders.
“He’s a big staple in our community,” Liz McCausland, 22, said. “We’ve grown up with him. He went to Wildwood Catholic, and we just want to see him win.”
Maloy was seeking to become the first local man to earn an Olympic medal since Holy Spirit High School graduate John Pescatore earned a bronze as a member of the U.S. men’s eight boat that rowed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
He staged a great rally late in the race, but couldn’t make up enough ground. He was in 33rd place coming out of the swim, dropped to 40th during the bike, but closed with an impressive effort in the run.
“Unfortunately, I missed the break out of the water,” Maloy told USA Triathlon. “I got onto the bike, and I didn’t put myself on a position on the bike to really do much of anything except for make it to the run, and that’s my own failure. That’s probably the biggest thing I wish I could get back.”
Maloy spent the days leading up to the race in a hotel near the course and planned to move into the Olympic Village for the rest the games. He was hoping to watch a few more events, including the women’s triathlon today, and walk with the U.S. team in the closing ceremonies Sunday.
He is next scheduled to race in the Beijing International Triathlon in China on Sept. 11, then compete in the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico, on Sept. 18.
Then he’s coming back to Wildwood Crest.
And he’ll no doubt get another parade and party.
“If it was support that he needed (to medal),” Jane Hopkins said, “then he would have been the gold medal winner, because he surely had that.”